Friday, January 27, 2017

How I Became Catholic Part 7 of 7

I am struggling to wrap this up because I'm sure I've forgotten something that was important or that it will be misunderstood if I don't say it just right.  But I think knowing that I am going to try and let grace be present here and just go with it. It's been 10 years after all, and while some things are clearer now, others are not. A lot of my conversion story continues post the actual moment of becoming Catholic, as I think this is true for most people in their faith walks. God doesn't give up on you after you are claimed but keeps the refining process going if you'll let him. But this story isn't about that, though maybe I should write another series on the next ten years post conversion some other time. :)

So, let's back to the story. Just a few short weeks before Easter vigil, one of the other catechumens and I met with a woman who had recently gone through the conversion process. Because both of us were struggling with a lot of outside pressures against us and also were wondering about all the things we just didn't quite get yet. It was almost a reassurance thing, and it was really needed because to see someone that already did what you are about to do and survived and is thriving on top of that a few years down the road, it gives you hope. Especially when you realize how big this is what you are doing. Part of me wonders, if I would have waited another year, and came into full communion after I had gotten married,  if I would have had all the strife going into it. But maybe for me it needed to be so uncomfortable from the outside that I knew I had to do it from the inside.  That even though it wasn't easy to go against my family or origin's wishes, the tug to do it wasn't going to go away and maybe it would have just gotten that much worse if I did wait another year.

Easter vigil came. It was a day full of snow and it was terrible weather, but despite that people that were important to me came out to support me in this process. It was so very great to have my roommates there and some friends from graduate school and K and his family as well.  I was so thankful for their presence and support.  They were troopers in the weather. I loved that it was snowing, not because it made it difficult to get there but snow is my favorite thing. It washes away the yuck of the world and paints it new again. It just felt like a symbol of a new beginning with the fire in the barrel light on a snowy night. It was a special night and while Easter vigil is long, every bit meant something and it was good to finally feel at home in my faith at the end of the night.  The rest could wait.

And that's one thing I think about often, despite how hard it was to get there with a lot of searching, I finally feel at home in Catholicism and this feeling hasn't gone away.  There are so many instances where I'm in mass and I just smile for the love that is there that is present in Jesus that is present in his sacrifice and in those around me despite coming from so many different backgrounds and at so many different stages in life.  There is a oneness, which I didn't feel before and there are so many other things that just keep me growing more and more in my walk with Jesus.  I recall one thing said in RCIA that was emphasized in our learning about the faith. It was simply that everything that Catholicism holds is there as something to bring you closer to Jesus. Every bit of the mass, every bit of the sacraments, every bit of prayer and devotion should draw you to Jesus. Not every devotion within Catholicism is for every Catholic or for every time in your life,  but they exist as means to lead to to Jesus. For in the end our goal is to be in communion with Christ, something for which every Christian strives. The vastness is there in Catholicism but it only accounts for the fact that each person needs something just a little bit different to reach the finish line. I am no where near the finish line yet, but God continues to meet me everyday where I am at and particularly now as a Catholic.

Read Part 1 here.

Read Part 6 here.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

How I Became Catholic Part 6 of ?

When official RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) started, I think I was well on my way to knowing I was going to be Catholic. And a lot of it was review in the first bit because it gave basis of Christianity in general. My sponsor was K and sometimes my one roommate would come with us too because she was a cradle Catholic and thought it would be good for her as well. I think one of the thoughts that I had through it was that it felt like such a long process.  RCIA wasn't a one class deal, but a good year of instruction, and it was hard to be patient.  I was often jealous of K's easier return through confession ordeal.

Along side of doing RCIA, I was in my second year of grad school which meant qualifiers and teaching lab to the freshman on top of normal classes and attempting to do research in the lab.  It was a lot even at that. So why not add more, right? Because I did. K proposed in late September and I added marriage prep and wedding planning to the mess of everything already happening in my life.  I want to say that I handled it gracefully, but there were a lot of tears shed and it was rough stress wise. I ended up at my thinnest during this time and had a mouth load of cavities, because for some reason with stress goes my teeth.

But I was happy to be marrying K and I was happy to be growing in my faith, I even liked creating my qualifier projects, but it was a lot to be doing at once. Maybe I should have slowed down just a bit, but then this story wouldn't have been what it is.

There were the normal steps along the way in RCIA, the Right of Acceptance, and the Right of Election. I did not really enjoy the first one because I remember it made me feel very vulnerable and exposed, and I think I wasn't quite ready for that.  But maybe this should have also been a sign of my introversion to me, whatever it was, it was a bit uneasy for me.  I did however enjoy the Rite of Election where every Catholic that was converting or coming into full communion with the church met together for the Rite. It made me feel like I was part of something so much greater than myself, and it gave a sense of the universality of the Church.

Looking back I think the one take away from RCIA that happened was the one day the parish priest talked about how conversion worked.  How in each facet approached we go through first an intellectual conversion than and emotional one and then a spiritual conversion.  I think through most of RCIA and early Catholic days I was still in the intellectual conversion. I think we have to wrap our minds around things first to even grasp what lies ahead for us, and then if you are me and tend to overthink most things it takes a while for the rest to happen. Maybe this is why I am not a charismatic Catholic.

I feel like Catholics get a lot of flack for something such as confession, but if you remember that I struggled with accountability within my Protestant walk. So even though I was nervous for my first confession, it felt like one of the most natural things to do, despite having to recount 23 years of sin. That was hard, I think I wrote down at least a couple pages of things. But the idea of confession agrees with me, it feels like a checking point to say you are human, and you screw up but also to say I want to do better and grow deeper and to do better I need to truly say where I've been and not in just a half hazard way that I was used to doing. Its hard to admit you screw up but to know that grace covers you and Jesus gives you countless opportunities to start new again, that is amazing.  Maybe there was something about these outward signs of grace that were pulling me closer to Jesus in ways I couldn't even understand at the time.

Read Part 7 Here

Part 1 can be found here.

Part 5 can be found here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

How I Became Catholic Part 5 of ?

I left off last in my post, at the point where I knew I wanted to figure this out, this Catholic thing, because figuring that out decided whether I would let K go or not. So I decided to attack what objections I supposedly had or more likely things I didn't understand. All the while I was attending mass. I remember making a point to bring my Bible with me to mass. That's at least what I had always done, one always took a Bible to worship, and to try to participate more, I wrote in the Nicene Creed and pasted it inside the front cover. Missals (for the non-Catholics reading, it gives the weekly four Bible passages and other prayer and mass order info) were present, but I felt lost with things jumping out of the whole and so I would bring that Bible each time and look up the readings my comforting way. I  think I needed at the very least to hold on to something familiar as it felt like most things weren't.

I read and listened to a lot of Catholic answers during this time. I think I tried to figure out why there was so much of Mary in this church, and why it felt like there was a lot of apathy or lack of daily living of faith amongst the members of the Catholic church.  That latter one makes me realize how pretentious and self-centered I was at this time, because I kind of thought everyone should be like me at this point. But I do think when you grow up protestant especially in small congregations, there is a difference in the way people approach their Faith.  Its at lot more in your face and individualistic to each person, versus a collective whole made of many parts at many different stages in their faith walks. I almost feel like its a bit like praise music versus a hymn, in one it feels like a focus on how God relates to you, in the other its God being given to the whole in his greatness. I struggled with these for a while, and sometimes still can shy away from Marian devotion to this day. But with time more understanding came.

I remember visiting a friend out of state, in the summer, and going to her Baptist church. And it was a fine service.  But somewhere in the middle, it kind of hit me that something was missing, not even that I was Catholic at this point, there was still the better half of the year to go, but just I could sense something was missing, the Eucharist.  Its funny, because I don't even think I understand transubstantiation at this point, but because there was no outward sign of Jesus, there was also a difference in how everything played out.  I think this was the point where I knew I had to be Catholic, there was no turning back.  I needed this more, this Jesus in the Eucharist. Jesus was calling me to him.

I don't know when I actually shared that this was my decision, but it was met with a lot of flack, a lot. And I cried a lot at the hurtful words and just felt really isolated a lot of times between where I was and where I was going.  There were however a few key people from my pre-Catholic decision days that stuck by me that were beacons of light amongst the darkness.  People I still feel like I can share my heart with even though we haven't made all the same life decisions, and overtime walk away feeling respected and loved. I am so thankful for these people because for one they gave me a greater sense of family and two they oddly helped me to recognize more truth within the Catholic faith.

One of these people was a friend who sent me a Baptist ministers take on Theology of the Body.  And  while one would think that perhaps this guy would hate it, he actually didn't instead he loved it and he was pretty great at relating it to someone like me who had these Protestant roots, but needed this truth found within Catholicism. Honestly, for the first time I felt like I as a woman was dignified and that I wasn't a lost cause as I thought before. I didn't have to hate being a woman, or make my identity as someone who was a victim but could show with my body, with me being me of God's love. Being a woman wasn't just my reproductivity or my lady parts, but was so much more powerful than that. I so needed that.

Read Part 6 Here.

Part 4 can be found here.

Part 1 can be found here.

Monday, January 23, 2017

How I Became Catholic Part 4 of ?

At this point, K was trying to find a way to discredit the Catholicism that was plaguing him and  found Karl Keating's Catholicism and Fundamentalism. He thought it would at least explain the differences between the basic beliefs of Protestantism and Catholicism. Instead, it logically validated Catholicism for him mainly seeing the faults in sola scriptura and the showing the objections of Catholicism as things that were not really truth but were just misinformation.

I'm not so sure how much we talked about this particular book together, but it made him want to go back to a mass. I had never been to a mass and ironically this was around Easter, so instead of mass, we ended up at a good Friday service. The only day there isn't mass in the Catholic church.  Preparing to attend something at a Catholic church, I was freaking out. I called the one Catholic I actually knew, my brother's college roommate, and asked all about how I should dress and act.  I didn't want to look out of place and honestly at that point I only had literary information on Catholicism. 

At the service, in an awesomely old church with great architecture, there came the point of kissing the cross. This felt very weird to do, I had never had such an external sign to do to demonstrate my faith before, and as it wasn't communion, it was open to all to do.  At least I hope it was because I did it, even if I felt weird about it. I still struggle with these external signs of faith times at the church, like ash crosses and processions, but I do them anyway because somehow I know they are pulling me closer to Christ. 

After this K wrestled with Catholicism more and more and we talked about this. It had me thinking that maybe I should start reading more about what Catholics believe because honestly I never had a healthy view of them before.  So I got ahold of the book Catholic and Christian.  I figured if anything I could support this guy along his journey if I understood more about what he was doing.  And then one day he called me that he just couldn't take it anymore and was going to go to confession and become Catholic again.  I mean I guess he always was Catholic, but I didn't understand how the lapsed thing worked at the time, so I was kind of at a loss in many ways.

I remember crying to my fellow first year grad students about my dilemma, and they admitted that it was hard. They knew that I was someone that took my faith seriously and they felt like this was a rough hand being thrown. I remember calling my mom at some point and her declaring that if this was the case for K, that maybe this wasn't the guy for me. This wasn't very helpful, but this is how she viewed Catholicism, something that wasn't to be entertained with joining. I on the other hand knew in the back of my mind that I wanted to marry this guy, but for me I had to be on the same page with him about religious beliefs. I wanted to be able to share in my struggles with him about faith matters and with future children and their faith and just be able to feel comfortable in those types of issues that I had to figure out that now that he was Catholic, could I be too. 

I contined to read my book,  Catholic and Christian, and the more I looked into it, the more I found I had in common with Catholicism and on top of it, some of my long posing questions were being answered.  There were loose ends however to tie up at the Assemblies of God church, I had agreed to run part of their vacation bible school, though this time I was the sports coordinator so I wasn't being conflicted in theology anymore. So I finished that up but also went to mass with K at times. I learned that they were having a group meet in the summer as kind of a pre-RCIA.  I had no idea what RCIA was, but I wanted to know more about this Catholic faith, so I thought I should go. 

In the meantime, I was changing living situations. I decided to live in a house with three other girls that was super close to campus. I knew the one girl from playing soccer with her, and since I was adventurous, I decided that it wouldn't be a big deal to not know the other two beforehand so much. Little did I know that they were all Catholic themselves. And on top of that, the church that was having the summer pre-RCIA was just a few blocks walk away. 

I was trying not to let myself get too involved too quick with the idea of this all working out, that I could be a Catholic and marry K someday. Because besides K and a few friends, I had little support in this endeavor. I didn't even mention it to my family at this point, because I was just trying to take it as something I was inquiring about. The first evening I walked into the group and I was supposed to share about who I was and from where I was coming faith-wise. I cried ridiculously along with my words. I knew this was going to be a big deal, I knew I didn't have any familial support and I wanted to do this anyway.

Read Part 5 Here.

Find Part 3 here.

Find Part 1 here. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

How I Became Catholic Part 3 of ?

I left off having found a church in Cleveland that felt familiar and homelike. I met a lot of Case Western students at the church or recent alums still in the area that first Sunday that I visited. Though I know it wasn't, it almost felt too easy to be welcomed into a group of thinking individuals that also valued God.  After all,  I was no longer in the Bible belt but was back in yankee territory where people tend to be a bit less open to strangers. Nonetheless, I was welcomed and I was so very thankful.

Amongst the group of new acquaintances was a boy, who actually happened to be the drummer in the praise band at the church. (Musicians always cause problems, is what I'm saying. :)) Maybe because I wasn't really looking, or maybe he was just that different, but somehow I let my guard down and we started dating a little over a month of knowing each other.  He apparently liked me from the beginning, and I, well, I was won over by his heart in playing tennis together.  Because I was an athlete, but I was an athlete who loved people who maybe weren't born with all this natural talent but tried their absolute hardest in every situation. He was this guy, and he still is, but also he absolutely respected me in every sort of way. A gentleman that didn't live in the south but in the north. Anyway, I am probably digressing here, but he was and is an important figure in this conversion story of mine.

At this church I got involved almost right away.  I was put into a small group, which I would define as a bible study group that was also supposed to keep you accountable on your faith walk. This idea can work to an extent, except that for me, I usually have my guard up in situations like this, and let the extroverts run the show and just say what is minimally required of me. It isn't until I talk to someone one on one that I really open up. Maybe this is why confession works for me now in a positive way besides the graces of it and everything.  Nonetheless, I kept going to the small group and I did learn from the others.  I think at this point I got a glimpse that Assemblies of God was a bit charismatic (not a bad thing, just not me) but at this point there was no doctrine presented to me and I wasn't held accountable to following a set of rules or even joining the church I believe.

I got involved even further in the church, I signed up to help teach their version of Sunday school, which I don't think was on Sunday but on a weekday night. It wasn't until I did this that I started to see a little more of the charismatic flavor of this denomination, something I was not familiar with in my mainline Protestant upbringing. It made me a bit uncomfortable, not because it was wrong, but it challenged me to examine what I thought about about this type of theology, and really what this church I was going to was really about, I just didn't know.

All the while, I'm dating this guy, this guy that seemed to actually like me and my quirks.  About seven months into our relationship, we had a talk about discerning marriage, and both of us were a little restless about the theology of our current church home. Some of the material for the men's group wasn't sitting well with him and as I said my teaching material wasn't sitting well with me. We decided to examine other churches and see if any of these seemed to fit us more. And on an important note, K's grandfather died in January of 2006.  This gave him a glimpse of his old Catholic life as he attended the funeral mass and burial and it stuck with him, though he didn't say much about it at the time.  The man takes a while to process things and it just wasn't factoring in at the time.

We tried all of one other church, a Presbyterian Church of America variety, which, get this, met in the basement the annex of a Catholic church. Where I grew up, I was mostly of the Presbyterian Church-USA variety but I was struggling already with women pastors because I felt like while women have amazing gifts, it always felt off to have them being in that particular role. I didn't have any other reason to why this was important, just that it didn't feel right. And yes, I know I am sounding 100% anti-feminist but truly I am not. I was simply observing what was. So a PCA church was somewhat familiar, but didn't have women as pastors. It wouldn't be for a while that I would actually be able to understand this as more than just a feeling. It was a little bit odd attending there, because it was so small and we didn't know anyone, but it was more liturgically based than what were currently attending something we both apparently were being drawn to more so. K commented that they said the Nicene Creed there, and that he remembered that from being a Catholic.  I thought that it was weird because in my Presbyterian upbringing we always said the Apostle's Creed, but it didn't go any further than that at the time. We didn't go back there again.

One day in perhaps March of 2006, K mentioned that he wanted to understand what Martin Luther really did in the reformation? It started a hunt for a book to explain this, not because I was thinking that much about this, but maybe I could learn something and also be a good girlfriend by finding an awesome book for him too. I think in K's mind his Catholic roots were plaguing him at this point and he wanted to read something that would dismiss Catholicism, obviously it didn't work.

Read Part 4 Here
Part 2 can be found here.
Part 1 can be found here. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

How I Became Catholic Part 2 of ?

Between my junior and senior year I interned at NASA in Cleveland.  I was a very determined girl to find a church to go to during the summer because I greatly enjoyed my college church and wanted to continue that source of love and understanding, but I struggled greatly in this endeavor. It was a very different place than the South when it came to religion and I wasn't under my parents' wing at this point.  So I hopped around for a while and near the last month of my 3 month internship finally found something that would work. I wasn't in love with it though and since it was mega church set up I honestly felt like a number more than a person in it, but it would do for a month in my mind.

I went back to school in my senior year taking more of those core classes, and two of classes included  study of Old and New Testament. The OT class opened my eyes to the connection between our Jewish roots and our newer Christianity. It renewed in me a respect for the liturgy and ritual aspect of worship. The NT class, while taught like a Bible quiz class, had some influence from the professor that got me thinking.  In it he stated that it was important to him that his church were he was a pastor celebrate communion every Sunday. This was the first time I had ever come in contact with a church that would do that. Every other church I had been part of, communion was at the most done monthly if not less or only as the spirit led. I listened to a lot of his sermons, or at least the required ones for class and it prompted a lot of questions. I didn't act on anything at this point, but I think this was a key factor to the beginnings of my conversion, if this intelligent man that I respected thought so highly of communion, why was that?  In the end, I think that it helped me to have more respect for the worship the baptists took part in, at least the kind that my professor was.

After I graduated from undergrad, I ended up deciding to go back to Cleveland for grad school in chemistry.  I had been part of a joint project with Case Western and NASA in my internship and if you know anything about Case's campus, its filled with some really fun architecture and so I applied got a really good deal to go and decided this was my school.  I thought that I would start getting acclimated to grad school in June by working in one of the labs there for the summer, so I did.  I chose a random roommate for the year from the school classifieds and well, that was very interesting in itself, the only relevant part to my conversion was that because she was already established and living in the apartment, there was no need to set up everything as a new account. I had internet. I had basic utilities. I had the ability to protestant church shop, because knowing the unsatisfied feeling I had the summer ago, I was determined to find a home.

On the first weekend I was there, I looked up churches, first a Baptist one, because remember I had a really good professor experience and actually came away with a large respect for the establishment as a whole through my college experience.  However, it was a dud.  I went home after the service, no one really welcomed me and I just felt empty.  That wasn't the feeling, I wanted to take away my first Sunday back in Cleveland.  So internet searching I did, and I stumbled upon an Assemblies of God church that had a great website, it was a little further away, but it met at a high school and this was familiar to me so I went. And it was a good thing I did. I felt like this was going to work, and work well.  It was like going back to my college church days and I was so thankful. Also, little did I know that amongst the welcoming people I met that day, I also met a lapsed Catholic amongst the church goers. A lapsed Catholic who ended up my husband a few years later.  But we will stop there for today.

Read Part 3 Here. 

Read part 1 Here.

Friday, January 20, 2017

How I Became Catholic Part 1 of ?

I wrote a story long ago in 2006-2007 of how I arrived at Rome. It's since been lost so I thought I take another stab at it here, as I'm 10 years in, and maybe in those 10 years I have gained a bit of insight.  I at least hope I have.

I grew up protestant, my mom and dad had me baptized in a Methodist church when I was a baby and  we moved to PA and we tried the Methodist church again, but the kids were horrid to my sensitive older sibling, and so we became Presbyterian.  It was close to Methodist and it had kind people in it, kind people are always a good thing. So most of my memorable childhood was spent being Presbyterian. But my parents never seemed to care if we did things with other protestant churches, and oddly in the small town of 5,000ish people that I grew up in there were at least 20 different protestant church varieties to choose from not to mention the even smaller surrounding towns with their 3 or 4 protestant churches each.  So many varieties, and honestly, as a kid I didn't think anything of this division except that these made for lots of variety of vacation bible schools and camps.

I had a good friend who was a member of the Church of God congregation who invited me to church summer camp at least twice, and for the most part I enjoyed the rock walls and the zip lines and the pony rides but then there was always an evening of alter calls. Alter calls where something in which you were supposed to commit yourself to Christ in that moment.  It always felt so strange to me, that this definitive moment was supposed to be the point at which I was a Christian and everything would magically change. Maybe I was a child skeptic and I just didn't know it.  But so many alter calls later I was jaded by this action and thought it felt like it was missing something. To me it didn't mean that I was not a Christian, but I just didn't get this type of theology.

Having a naturally inquisitive, deep diving personality I did a lot of spiritual reading unprompted. On top of this I actually wanted to go further into my faith and so I asked to go to yet again more camps, of the Christian Leadership variety because the alter call ones weren't doing it for me anymore and so I convinced my parents to send me to my aunt's camp at least twice who had such things. I even convinced my mom to take my brother and I to Mexico for a mission trip since I was too young to go on my own according to the folks making the rules. (I was apparently very persuasive as a young one.) It was probably a good thing that my mom went on it because the girl who bunked next to me, who was a young college student, was bitten in the middle of the night by a deadly spider (local doctor knew the antidote but it totally made this girl delirious) and I probably wouldn't have been able to communicate well if this happened to me with my parents many thousands of miles away.

So I was seeking and wanting more and just trying to figure out what this whole Christianity thing was at its core. Along the way there were some bumps, I was sexually molested as a pre-teen and it sent me into an anti-boy/men tirade of years where I felt pretty worthless in the eyes of God. It oddly later led me to block out emotion that came with anything sexual and made for some pretty risky situations. Granted I had principles guided only by fear but I figured I could do anything but and yet I still felt horrible the next day post these situations. By the time I was a college student I had convinced everyone that I was never getting married and hated men, yet honestly I was just a jumbled mess inside. I had a habit of declaring my love of someone who just wasn't even a possibility because then I didn't have to actually have to act on anything. Secretly, I wanted to be loved but just didn't think I was worthy of it.

I ended up at a Southern Baptist college,  mainly because I ended up with a sports scholarship/academic scholarship and it was a place that felt safe and yet was far from home so I could make a new start. My freshman year I tried going to churches in the area but the Presbyterian churches around there at the time were terrible and felt like everything was dying. I was one of the few non-baptists around a campus filled with PKs and MKs and kids brought in to be missioned to. Most baptists pretty much thought I was Catholic, especially when it came to mentioning things like Lent.

A fellow cross country runner, introduced me to a non-denominational church with a South African pastor.  Honestly, probably part of the draw to this church for me was the accent, but also the church was alive and growing in contrast to the dying southern Presbyterians. I stayed at this church from at least sophomore year until graduation. I went on a mission trip with them to Honduras to help build a school and it was just very great in that helping others sense. They were good people once again and I liked being in their presence.

I had a lot of questions at this point, none which I felt like were being answered.  And of course there was that weighty question of my worth being defiled and all.  I was a little strange in my college course work and took all my hefty major stuff early and then left the core freshman classes for my junior and senior years.  I first took an Arts in Western Civilization class.  It was the best, because I loved art and I loved relating art to God. On top of that there was an architecture project and well, I am a complete sucker for old churches and their beauty. The professor, I don't think he knew the impact of his words, went on and on about the cathedral in St. Louis, MO. He stated, "If you can't worship there, I don't think you can worship anywhere." College me was like 'Okay, you know that's a Catholic church you are talking about, right? You're Baptist." Hmm.  But architecture lover me, well she made a special trip during winter break convincing a friend to accompany her there since it was near her home. MO is very far away from PA, but, you know, architecture! So I went and it was beautiful, it was pre me having any decent camera, so I believe I took pictures with a disposable camera but none the less it stuck with me that this was somewhere worthy to worship. After all the non-denom I attended met in a school assembly room a very big contrast indeed.

My brother was dating a Catholic girl at the time, and my upbringing led me to believe that Catholics were wild. I totally dismissed him in his inquiries about Catholicism thinking if he ended up marrying this girl that she would just become what he was because we were the actual church going people.  Little did I know what God had in store for me. Oh life is funny sometimes, and I think I will end there today.

Read Part 2 Here